Letter to the Editor: Be Constructive, Not Destructive

Letter to the Editor: Be Constructive, Not Destructive

Eliminating elements of our Confederate history and heritage is wrong for many reasons. Doing so belies our claim to be a city that values diversity, inclusion and its history. We need tourist revenues, but deliberately removing our Confederate heritage will result in tourists who are interested in it not coming because there is less of it to enjoy and they feel unwelcome.

Removal will not cure social problems; indeed, doing so will disappoint and perhaps anger some of our citizens who may then feel less charitable toward those who destroy their heritage. That compromises the city’s sense of unity.

Distorting the record of our past will prevent our learning appropriate lessons and how that past shapes our present — and future. It will reinforce the mistaken and widespread misconception that only the Confederacy represented our racist past.

For example, texts do not note that the Jamestown colonists did not welcome the surprise arrival of the Africans in 1619; they feared their presence would induce an attack by the feared Spanish. Eventually there were slaves in all the colonies, brought in Yankee ships and packed in terrible conditions. John Hancock of Massachusetts was proud of his five matched African slaves in livery on his coach. Slaver John Brown of Providence, R.I., was the richest man in the colonies when the Revolution began. Her Quaker owners did not free Phillis Wheatley as the text I used at T.C. Williams High School in the 1980s claimed. It is unclear if Crispus Attucks, the first person killed during the Boston Massacre, was an escaped slave. Gen. Grant owned slaves until they were freed by the 13th amendment after the Civil War ended.

Today, across America there is racial segregation in housing and schools — even in places never part of the Old South and with no Confederate monuments. The South is the most racially integrated section of the country. Notably, Virginia elected the first Black governor.

Removal is an injustice to the memory of brave Americans who stood courageously against abuse of federal authority by exercising their right to determine their own destiny as provided in the Declaration of Independence and affirmed when the states adopted our Constitution.

Citizens calling for removal, judging from their comments at the public hearings, suffer from ignorance and an incomplete understanding of our history. A better solution would be to improve the city’s presentation of that period by adding to, not subtracting from it. Office of Historic Alexandria was notably remiss during our commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War in doing so — and cancelled even the lecture series before planned speakers were able to present. I saw none of the people who are so vociferously calling for removal of our heritage at any of these educational events, including all councilors.

Removal of our Confederate heritage is active discrimination. Ironically named “progressives” demand freedom of expression for their views only; they insist others must be removed from the public square. That tyrannical stance violates the Constitutional rights of their fellow Americans.

Black citizens lobbing many angry words at our Confederate heritage have had their city history restored; all taxpayers have uncomplainingly funded their many memorials, statues, cemetery recovery and restoration, celebration, museums (staffing, ongoing maintenance, programming, etc.) even while the city faces a $500,000-plus debt and heavy expenses for essential infrastructure improvements.

Because the city is facing huge new expenses, we must use our funds carefully, not for unnecessarily changing street names — which will also cost additional expense, time and inconvenience to those property owners.

The impetus for removal was reaction to the Charleston, S.C. massacre. I regret that after that tragedy Council failed to do the right thing (which I suggested): pass a resolution expressing our shock and distress and conveying our sympathy — and admiration for the families’ forgiveness of the shooter. In this city, instead, open hatred of all things associated with Confederate history was unloosed.

Rather than destroying vestiges of our city’s history — which was not responsible for the tragedy — we would do better to reinforce our institutions that teach respect for all people, the need for compassion, empathy and charity toward others and the appropriate ways to resolve personal and political issues.

The city won its first All America City award because during the Centennial Commemoration of the Civil War, it recognized both sides of the conflict; Yankee Fort Ward was restored at taxpayer expense (plus ongoing staffing, maintenance, programming, etc. in the city’s budget since then; total costs unknown even to city staff), and various new streets were named for Confederates (a one-time needed expense and with no later funds required — and no educational component). Hardly equal treatment for both sides. If Council removes Confederate street name(s), it should return the award.

I hope we will not adopt the vengeful practices of the Taliban and ISIS that destroy objects that reference the past of a conquered territory because they disagree with that heritage. I hope we are better than that. It is time for Council to show leadership in adopting a better way. My suggestions appear above; let’s be constructive, not destructive.

Ellen Latane Tabb